Storm

Han stormed into Leia's office. "Hey, don't do this anymore. Don't summon me out of a meeting. What I do is important too."

"I know that, I'm sorry, but this matter had to be addressed now." Leia's tone was firm.

Han sat down in the chair across from her desk. "What matter?"

Leia turned her screen around to face him. On it was a picture of him kissing a tall red-haired woman.

"Where did you get that?" The screen changed to him holding hands with the woman across a table.

"It was mailed to me this morning."

"Who sent it?"

"It was sent anonymously. I have Artoo and Threepio trying to trace it now, but I thought you might have some idea."

The picture changed again. He was sitting in a bunk, naked from the waist up. He was laughing. The woman was leaning against him laughing too.

Han didn't say anything. "I need an explanation, Han," Leia said.

Han glared at her. The picture changed to one of him on top of the woman, clearly engaged in sex.

"These are old. I don't cheat on you. I'm not the one who cheats."

Leia winced. "I'm not accusing you. I know they're old, there's no scar on your stomach in the one where you're sitting up. I just need to know the story because, if they were sent to me, chances are they've been sent to the media."

The pictures kept changing each one more graphic than the last. "So you looked at all of these?"

"Twice. She's very tall."

"Turn it off."

Leia hit a button and the screen went blank. Han sat angry and fuming across from her.

"I know you feel your privacy has been invaded. I know it should be none of my business what went on before me, but it's suddenly become my business. Please don't make me face the press without knowing what happened."

Han ran a hand through his hair and blew out an angry breath. "Okay. Her name is Stace Fenton. We were involved about six years ago. She was a smuggler too. The pictures were taken on board her ship. I thought we had something really good going, she just forgot to mention she was married. Her husband was also a smuggler. He got suspicious and paid a guy to rig her ship with cameras so he could spy on her. Alm Fenton was the first person to ever break my nose."

Leia looked down at her nails. "I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too." He stood. "Now if you don't mind, there are people waiting for me."

Leia nodded. "We need to decide how we're going to handle the press."

"Can it wait until dinner?"

"Sure."

"Good." He stood to leave, palming the lock beside the door. Just as it opened, he turned. "And, Leia?"

"Yes."

"She was too tall."

Leia smiled as the door closed behind him.

The next morning as Leia left her office the press was waiting just outside the door. Leia had been expecting this and greeted them with a smile. A steady barrage of flashes went off as reporters began yelling her name.

"Your Majesty, were you shocked by what you saw on the news this morning?"

Leia laughed. "Yes, terribly I was laboring under the impression that Han had never so much as looked at another woman until he met me. Thank goodness we've got that cleared up."

"So you're saying these pictures aren't recent?"

"That's what I'm saying." Two guards started separating the crowd of reporters to let Leia through. She started walking toward the lift.

"How will this affect your relationship with General Solo?"

Leia walked on to the lift and then turned around. She smiled sweetly. "It won't." The doors closed in front of her.

On the other side of the ship Han was dealing with his own set of reporters.

"General Solo, what did you think when you saw those pictures?"

"I thought wow, I've really gotten gray in the last six years."

"So these pictures were taken six years ago?"

"Yep. I think I've gained weight, too."

"Who is the woman?"

"I'm not saying."

"What was Her Majesty's reaction?"

"To me having a life before I met her?"

"Was she angry?"

"No, Her Majesty is a very reasonable woman. Now if you'll excuse me, guys, I have to get to work." He pushed his way past them and into his office.

Luke appeared at lunchtime. "Hey, pal," he said, walking into Han's office. "How's it going?"

Han pushed his computer screen back into his desk and shoved some data pads away from him. "Lousy."

"Yeah, I can imagine. I was watching the news while I had breakfast this morning and ended up spewing cereal all over the counter."

Han nodded. "I bet."

"I have to say, though, I caught the 10 o'clock show and the quotes from you and Leia were perfect. I think you might have completely diffused the situation. I bet by the end of the week no one will even remember this story."

"That was the goal. We hashed it out over dinner last night. You know, what take we were going to have on it. We both felt blowing it off but not denying it was the best thing to do."

"Well, I was convinced that it wasn't affecting either one of you."

"Hmm, but then after dinner Leia went back to work and didn't come home. I assume she slept in her office."

Luke grimaced. "Oh. But I thought those pictures were taken before you met."

"That's right."

"Then..."

"What is she upset about?" Han asked

"Right."

Han shook his head. "I don't know. I think she's just upset. I mean I keep asking myself how I would act if I saw pictures of her with another man. And you know, even if it was someone from before I knew her it would still piss me off. I mean I was furious about that King Denid guy."

"That was different."

"I know, but at least there weren't pictures."

Luke nodded. "So you want to get some lunch."

Han got up. "Sure, but do you mind if we go back to my place, I don't want to eat in the cafeteria."

When he followed Han out the door, Luke wasn't sure if they would be heading toward the Millennium Falcon or toward the suite Han shared with Leia. It turned out to be the suite.

The door slid open, and Leia's shoes casually tossed on the floor greeted Han. A couple of feet later were a pair of pants, then a shirt. He turned around to Luke. "I think you're going to have to eat lunch somewhere else."

Luke surveyed the scene over Han's shoulder. "Right. I'll see you guys tomorrow."

Han followed the path of the clothes back to the bedroom, but was disappointed by what he found there. Leia was bundled up in her heavy robe, her hair still damp from the shower. She was pulling back the sheets obviously getting ready to go to sleep.

"Hey," Han said.

Leia looked up startled. "Han, I didn't hear you come in. What are you doing home?"

"Lunch. You?"

"I didn't get any sleep last night. I decided to try and nap before you got home."

"Why didn't you come home last night?"

Leia looked down at the bed. "Work was really—"

"Don't tell me you were working. You've been complaining about not having enough to do at work and now you're trying to tell me you were so busy you couldn't come home." He was surprised by his own anger.

"Yesterday was really hard."

"Yeah, for me too. I was hoping to have someone to share that with, but no, you had to bear it all alone just like always."

Leia opened her mouth to say something, but clearly was at a loss for words.

Han sat down on the edge of the bed. "Stop shutting me out. I know looking at those pictures was hard, but we can talk about it. It was no picnic for me either."

Leia sighed and wrapped her arms around herself. "It wasn't the pictures so much."

Han looked up at her. "What?"

"It was your reaction."

He was confused.

"You thought I was accusing you of something and immediately you tell me you're not the one who cheats. I thought we were past Denid, but the first opportunity to use him as a weapon and you do."

Han's shoulders slumped. She was right. "I'm sorry. That was a low blow."

She sat down on the floor across from him and leaned against the closet doors. "That was an awful time for me."

"I know."

She pounded the floor with sudden ferocity. "No, you don't!" she shouted. "You don't know just how bad it was. I completely unraveled. Denid was just one in a long list of self-destructive bad decisions. If it hadn't been for Luke, I never would have lived through it. As it is I still sacrificed everything to go after you. Don't you wonder why it is I don't have anything to do here now? They think I'm some kind of unreliable crazy woman who dropped everything to go after her lover in what was probably a fool's quest. You don't just drop something you've worked on your whole life and expect to come back and pick up where you left off."

Han had never seen her so angry and upset. She stood and paced.

"So don't you ever, ever bring up Denid again. Don't insinuate, don't imply, don't say one thing about it."

Han opened his mouth to say something but she cut him off.

"Even if you are the only thing standing between me and the abyss, I won't tolerate you throwing the past back at me. Not you. I take it from all sides all the time, but not from you."

There were tears streaming down her face.

Han was stunned. He knew that she'd left the rebellion to come after him, but the ramifications of that had never really occurred to him. He realized he hadn't said anything and that she was moving toward the door. He crossed the room in two strides and grabbed her arm.

She jerked away from him but he held on and spun her around to face him. He wiped the tears from her face and looked into her eyes. "If I'm the only thing standing between you and the abyss—"

She leaned back from him but didn't break eye contact.

"Then you are never going to fall."

He kissed her then, a passionate demanding kiss. She opened her mouth to him and he pulled her robe open. Sometimes he felt like the only time she really let him inside was when she literally physically let him in. Ten feet from their bed he took her against the wall. It was sudden, explosive and quick.

When it was over he took her hand and lead her back to bed. He took off his clothes and slid her robe off her shoulders and they spooned together and slept.

The next morning he brought her breakfast in bed. She nibbled thoughtfully on a piece of fruit while he told her his schedule for the day.

"Do you like what you do?" she asked when he was finished.

"Sure, I guess. I think I'm good at it."

"You are good at it. I hear that a lot."

"Still, I don't think I'll ever really be one of the senior staff. They just don't think of me that way. It's not just me though they're like that with all the field officers that have stayed on. They were thrilled when Lando went back to Bespin. Even though I know they're happy with my work, I know they'd like me to move on too."

Leia nodded. "I'm thinking of commissioning a ship."

Han raised his eyebrows. "Oh, really? What kind?"

"Mon Calamari I think, something along the lines of The Freedom."

Han's jaw dropped. "Leia, The Freedom has a crew compliment of like 2000."

Leia nodded. "I know. I want a ship large enough to house the foundation I need to administer the funds from Alderaan. Also, I want something that feels like a home, not just a ship. I like the gardens the Mon Calamari install on the upper decks, and frankly, I want something big enough to have serious weapons, serious shields and a cloaking device."

"Will this be a military ship?"

"No. It will be non-military, non-government. In essence it will be the Alderaanian flagship. It will fly under the colors of House Organa, like a Palace in space."

Han blew out a breath. "Wow."

"It's ridiculous for me to continue sitting here under the protective wing of the Alliance. I've served my purpose for them. They only let me stay here as a courtesy, because they know I have nowhere else to go, but my presence makes them uncomfortable, especially now that Mon Mothma is presiding over the Senate. Everyone assumed I would be her vice president - since I chose not to they don't know what to do with me. I can't stay here and watch them shift to a peace keeping military. The clones are already being reconditioned and they're changing their uniforms, but for me they'll always be storm troopers. I don't want to be on a ship with them roaming the halls. I don't care how docile and trainable they are supposed to be. I know some of them break past their conditioning."

Han nodded. "I know. I'm not in a real hurry to be part of that either."

"Then command my ship."

"What?"

"Oversee construction. Help me staff it, run the bridge. I can't do all that and chair the board of a huge charitable foundation at the same time. I need you."

Han laughed. "Leia, I don't know."

"I know it's asking a lot. You'd have to resign your commission and I'm sure it will be a million headaches, but I trust you and I know you can do it."

"Are you serious? What kind of timeframe are we talking about here?"

"Six months for initial construction and staffing, official launch in a year."

"Where are you planning on doing all of this?"

"Coruscant."

"I thought you hated Coruscant."

"It's not my favorite planet, but it's the only place I can think of where you can build a major ship and a major financial institution at the same time."

Han nodded. "Good point. So when are we going?"

"Well, there is an art gallery opening in a month. Mon Mothma has invited us as her guests. It's a major event. It's being billed as the return of freedom of expression. I thought we could go a week early and use the opportunity to find a suitable place to live."

Han stretched out on the bed next to her. Was she actually asking him to go and pick out a house with her? Was she actually giving him his own command? He didn't know what to be more shocked about. She'd obviously given this a lot of thought.

Leia got up, pulled her robe on and took the tray of food back to the kitchen.

Han watched her as she walked back into the room. She was walking awkwardly and she stopped and stretched her back next to the bed. He rolled toward her.

"Your back hurt?"

Leia rolled her neck. "Among other things."

Han slid his arms around her waist and pulled her on to the bed with him. "Why is that do you think?"

"Let's just say up against the wall doesn't make the low impact list of sexual positions."

"There's a low impact list?"

"I'm sure there is."

Han slipped a hand beneath her robe and ran it down her body. "Anything else sore?" He cupped her sex and smiled at her sudden intake of breath.

She nodded.

He shifted his hand. "Here?"

She closed her eyes and nodded again.

"I should probably kiss it and make it better."

Leia arched against his hand and murmured her agreement.

Han decided that since he was resigning anyway, it wouldn't matter if he was late to work.

Three weeks later the Millennium Falcon was packed with all of their belongings and headed to Coruscant. Han was surprised by how little it actually amounted to. The stacked crates took up only a small percentage of the Falcon's hold; it was really just clothing and some personal effects. He tightened a strap around the last stack of boxes and headed back up to the cockpit. Chewie was doing the pre-flight check and Leia was sitting behind him looking at a data pad.

"I'm never going to get everything done." She looked up at Han as he took his place in the pilot's chair.

"You'll get it done. Don't worry."

In minutes they were in space and minutes later hyperspace. Han had planned the trip so they would land on Coruscant at what would feel like normal morning for them. He took the data pad from Leia's hand

"It's late, we've got ten hours to Coruscant, let's get some sleep."

Leia looked at him. "You're right." She scratched Chewie's neck. "Good night, Chewie."

"Good night," he woofed.

As Leia settled next to him in bed, Han found himself plagued by self-doubt. She'd entrusted him with a tremendous amount of responsibility. He hoped he was up to the task. He'd been acting very sure of himself whenever they talked about their plans, but in private he nervously poured over his data pads making sure he hadn't missed anything.

He fell asleep thinking about who should head up the security detail. He woke up wanting to scream but he couldn't breathe; he tried to claw his way out but his hands were frozen. An iron fist clamped around his heart; he couldn't get away. Then she was there. He could hear Leia calling his name. He could feel her arms around him. He felt her pull him to her, his face pillowed against her breast. He trembled in a cold sweat.

"It's okay, you're okay. You're okay."

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tighter against him.

She ran her fingers through his hair and rested her cheek against the top of his head. She rocked them back and forth and softly sang a lullaby in her native tongue.

Han knew somewhere in the back of his mind that he should be embarrassed to be cooed at like a child, but he shut his eyes and let himself be absorbed by the feel of her, the smell of her until he fell back asleep.

Their first week on Coruscant was a whirlwind of activity. They looked at twelve different apartments before settling on the largest one. It had ten bedrooms and was the entire upper floor of the most opulent apartment building in the capital. Han was stunned by the size of it.

He followed her through it after they'd finalized on the lease.

"Are you sure we need something this big? We don't even have furniture."

"Well, we need a bedroom, we each need an office, Chewie needs a room, Luke needs a room. This had the largest dining room and this had the only kitchen that looked like it could handle a full staff."

"We're going to have a full kitchen staff?"

"Not all the time, but catered events require a lot of staff, all those people have to be able to work somewhere."

"Are we going to be having a lot of catered events?"

"Some." Leia shrugged. "You bring up a good point about furniture though. I think I should hire a decorator. I don't have time to go furniture shopping and neither do you."

"A decorator?"

"It won't be like you think. It'll be nice, you'll see."

Han rolled his eyes. "Well, while we're on the subject, there is one thing I need."

"What's that?"

"A secretary. I can't keep up with everything that's going on, I'm going to need someone to handle calls while I'm out and to keep track of my schedule."

Leia nodded, "I know, I'm going to need that too."

"So I had a thought."

"If this thought is five ten and blonde you can forget it."

Han scowled at her. "You're a jealous little thing."

Leia squared herself up to her full height and poked him in the chest. "There is nothing little about my jealousy."

Han laughed. "Okay, seriously, I can't believe I'm saying this, but how about Threepio?"

"As a secretary?"

"Yeah, you said you wanted to conduct most of our work from here, which means that we could probably make due with one assistant if they could manage to keep track of both schedules."

"Which would be difficult for a person, but easy for Threepio."

"Right, plus having an interpreter is not a bad idea."

"True."

"And, I just don't like the idea of servants."

"Han—"

"I know you grew up with them, but I just don't like the idea of people standing around listening to our conversations and watching our every move. I'd rather have droids."

"No, I agree."

Han looked at her surprised.

"You don't understand - I've never hired a servant in my life. The families that served mine on Alderaan had been doing so for over a hundred years. You can't just hire that kind of loyalty."

"Okay, so we're agreed. Droids not servants."

Leia nodded. "We should get back to the hotel. We need to get dressed for the gallery opening."

Two hours later Han was straightening his jacket in the foyer mirror and waiting for Leia to emerge from their bedroom. He checked his chrono. "Leia, the speeder is going to be here in 10 minutes."

A muffled response came from the bedroom. There was a knock on the door.

Han opened it to find Luke in his Jedi finest. His black tunic was covered with a wrap-over leather vest Han had never scene before. "Looking spiffy, kid."

"Leia sent a tailor over. I see he got to you too."

Han grinned at him. "Not too bad, huh?"

"No, who knew you'd clean up this good?"

Han shrugged at him. "How was your flight?"

"Smooth, uneventful."

"You get checked in okay?"

"Yep. Where's Chewie?"

"Still primping. I don't know who is worse about their hair, him or Leia."

Just then Chewie walked out of his bedroom.

"I guess that means Leia." Luke laughed.

Chewie walked up and checked his look in the mirror.

"You missed a spot on your back," Han offered.

Chewie whipped around to see and Han guffawed. Chewie growled at him and bared his teeth.

Han threw his palms up in mock distress. "Hey take it easy. Just a little good natured joke."

"Could you two cut it out, we need to go." Leia said walking down the hall.

All three stopped and looked at her. Her heavy white silk dress was cut low across the front. The long skirt swirled around her legs as she moved giving the effect that she was floating. Her hair was wrapped in a triple braided bun around her head with a single long braid down her back, which was just about the only thing covering her back.

Han let out an involuntary whistle as she moved past them. The back of her dress plunged to her waistline.

"Where's the rest of your dress?" Luke asked.

Leia glared at him. "Plunging back lines are in this year. I can't very well go to this thing looking like I've lived in a cave all this time."

"But we did live in a cave for a while on—"

"Just shut up and go." Leia pushed Luke out the door. She looked quickly over her shoulder and whispered to Han. "You can't see it, can you?"

Han knew she was sensitive about her death tag. He looked. "No."

"Not if even if I turn?"

Han shook his head then kissed the top of hers. "You look terrific."

Her cheeks colored. "Thanks."

He slipped her cloak over her shoulders and they left.

The gallery opening was unbelievably crowded. Leia was typically swept away from Han, mixing and mingling with people she hadn't seen in years as well as some of the Alliance leaders she hadn't seen in months. There were 30 rooms of art and Han decided to find out which one of them contained the bar. He passed Luke, who was talking to a former comrade, and was amused to see the young Jedi's eyes widen as a woman wearing a dress that plunged much lower in the back than Leia's squeezed by him. Actually, Han thought that Leia's dress was quite conservative in this crowd.

He was also amused to see that Chewbacca had found the bar ahead of him and was already leaning against the wall looking liked he'd rather be somewhere else. Han was just about to order a drink when he saw Luke dash by. Han turned and followed him with Chewie on his heels.

They trailed Luke room after room until they reached the last exhibit. Against the back wall they saw Leia staring at a painting. There was almost no one else in the room, but the few people there were whispering in an excited knot.

"Where is the artist?" Han heard someone say as he passed the group.

Luke had moved to stand beside Leia and touched her shoulder. It annoyed Han that Luke could do that, touch Leia, and know everything she was thinking and feeling.

Han rushed to her other side. "What's wrong?" Then he saw the painting she was staring at. "What the hell?"

It was gruesome. He was horrified by it. It was a larger than life-size painting of Leia. She was standing on a mound of dead bodies. Her head was bowed and she wore an elegant white gown, but her chest and ribs were flayed open revealing her heart, which was enormous and violently red. Blood ran down her arms and fell onto the bodies beneath her. Alderaan loomed behind her in the background. It made Han want to be sick.

All the color had left Leia's face. She was standing very straight as if good posture alone could get her through this. Han was torn between wanting to wrap his arms around her and whisk her away from this place and wanting to tear whoever had done this painting into bloody pieces.

The small group parted, and an extremely thin young man stepped forward and bowed lazily toward Leia. "Your Majesty, someone said you had finally seen this piece." A faint smile played across his lips. "I am the artist. What do you think?"

Han felt rage flare up inside him. "You son of a bitch," he hissed. He moved to knock the smile off his face, but Luke shifted between them.

"Wait," was all Luke said.

Leia turned to the young man. "I think you've captured me beautifully. I feel like that every day."

The artist blanched. Clearly this had not been the response he'd been expecting.

"How much is it?" Leia asked.

"600,000 credits," the artist stammered.

"I'll take it," Leia said simply. "Who do I see about having it sent to my hotel?"

"I can arrange for that, Your Majesty." He bowed deeply this time, all the bravado gone.

"See that it's done tonight."

"Of course." He bowed again.

"Thank you," Leia said softly, and started walking back toward the entrance.

Han, Luke and Chewie followed.

"Why did you buy that thing?" Han growled in her ear.

She didn't break stride. "Because if I own it, no one else can ever see it."

She was right, of course, but it always amazed him that she could calculate so clearly when confronted by things that left him unable to think at all.

"I still hate that you paid money for that," he grumbled.

"He's Alderaanian. It's his money."

"But what's to prevent him from turning around and painting another one just like it, or worse?"

"I don't think that's going to happen."

They had reached coat check so Han let the subject drop and went to collect their things. It was no use arguing with her anyway.

The next few days were a swirl of activity. Leia had hired a decorator with the express instructions that if there were Alderaanian furniture makers anywhere to be found that the contracts go to them.

Han was surprised to hear there were actually two on Coruscant and Leia had decided to split the work between them. Han, meanwhile, had finalized the initial construction plans with the Mon Calamari ship builders and had hired Wedge Antilles as head of security to do on-sight quality control.

He was explaining to her about Wedge when he realized she wasn't listening at all. "Did you hear what I just said?" he asked.

Leia looked up at him. "Um...I'm sorry, what was it?"

"I was saying Wedge agreed to come on—oh forget it. You don't care about this."

Leia sighed, "I'm sorry, I'm distracted."

"Okay, be distracted." He started to walk away.

"Han."

He turned back around. "You know it's bad enough that I have none of my own authority. That everything has to have your name on it before anyone will even look at it, but to have you ignoring me now is really too much."

"I am not ignoring you. I've just got a lot on my mind."

"Yeah, me too. I thought we were sharing. Guess not!"

She looked annoyed. "I don't really want to share. I want to forget my day the minute I walk through the door. Okay? Is that okay?"

Han shook his head. "No, it's not. Because then you expect me to forget my day when I walk through the door."

"What's wrong with that?"

"Well, I have to tell you about my day because I need your permission for tomorrow." He was shouting now. He could feel the anger well up in him. He'd been sitting on his feelings about this for a while and now they all came rushing at him in a wave.

"Well, I'm sorry if I've given you too much responsibility."

"You don't get it. It's not the responsibility it's that you've given it. You give everything now. Everyone thinks I've slept my way into this position."

Leia looked blankly at him. "Well, haven't you?"

Han was almost overcome by the desire to strike her. He clenched his fists and held them tightly at his side. "You have been an incredible bitch ever since you bought that painting, and I am really getting sick of it." He turned around and started walking out of the room only to be stopped by Threepio walking in with a stranger following him.

"Mistress Leia, this is Hurm Forman from the Alliance High Court."

The man stepped forward and held out a thin disposable data pad toward Leia. "Your Majesty, I have here a summons for your testimony before the High Court one week from today."

Leia took the pad.

"What's this about?" Han asked.

"In the course of investigating accusations of war crimes by the Imperials the Senate has uncovered evidence of Imperial torture practices. One such vid has Her Majesty's name on it and appears to indicate that Her Majesty was the victim of criminal behavior on the part of the Empire."

"There's a vid? They taped it?" Leia's eyes widened.

Forman nodded. "It appears that whenever the Imperials conducted an interrogation it was taped and a copy sent to the capital for filing in the Emperor's personal collection."

"What would I have to do?" Leia asked. Han wondered if it was possible that in the last few moments she had actually gotten smaller.

"Each person that has a vid record is being sought to testify before the High Court to verify that the Imperial record is valid. Of course, it's very difficult to find anyone still alive, but the evidence is so much stronger with personal verification. We were very lucky to locate you."

"What do you mean 'verify the record'?"

"Oh, it's very simple you just watch the vid and remark on whether or not it's you that appears. Then give evidence as to what happened to you after that."

"Evidence?" She wrapped her arms around herself and Han could see her trembling.

"The other witnesses have submitted medical reports."

"How many other witnesses have testified?" Han asked moving to stand next to Leia.

"So far, two."

"Out of how many vids?" Han asked, slipping his arm around Leia's shoulders.

"531, but the search continues for survivors."

"Do I have to watch the whole thing?"

Forman frowned. "Of course not, that would take hours, you need only watch enough to verify that it's you."

Leia nodded her head.

Forman clicked his heels together. "Next week then." He bowed deeply and turned to leave.

"Oh my." Threepio said. "I'll show him out."

Han and Leia stood together for a moment, just staring at nothing. Finally, Leia moved away from him. "Weren't you storming out?" She said.

"What? No."

"Why? I'm still the same bitch I was a few minutes ago."

"True, but I'm still not going anywhere."

Leia started pacing. "Why? Hoping to get a little of what made you famous?"

Han blew out a breath and then rolled his neck muscles. "Is that the best you've got?"

Leia glared at him.

"Come on, Princess. You can be nastier than that. Why don't you insult my breeding next or my grooming or my sexual performance? Hey, bring out the big guns, say something mean about my mother. Come on, you want to take this out on me, take it out, best shot. You can do it." He tapped his chin.

"I hate you."

"Well, I love you."

She crumpled. She fell to her knees and sat back on her feet; she held her palms out to him. "Why?" she sobbed.

Han kneeled in front of her. "Because, I can wake you out of a sound sleep at three o'clock in the morning and you'll sing Alderaanian lullabies to me until I can calm down and fall back asleep."

She fell forward into his arms and wept against his chest. She wept tears that she'd held back for months, some of them for years. She sobbed and mumbled incoherently into his shirt about the pictures, Denid, the painting, Bail Organa, Vader and the High Court. Han couldn't understand everything she said and didn't need to. He just held her while she let it out.

It seemed like hours that he held her on the floor, but the clock on the wall told him it had only been twenty minutes. Leia finally pulled back, wiped her face with her hands and stood up. "I'm sorry," she mumbled.

"Don't be." Han got up. "You needed that. I think you might need all of this."

"I'm going to take a shower."

Han waited until he heard the water running before he left to go find Luke.

Luke was in his room and answered the door in a sweaty tank top and loose athletic pants.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt your work out."

"No big deal, come on in. I was just about to get in the shower and come up. What's wrong with Leia?"

Han looked at him. "You know sometimes I really hate this clairvoyance thing you two have going."

Luke shrugged. "I know, but there's not much we can do about it. What happened?"

Han told him about the summons.

"Is she going to do it?"

"She doesn't really have a choice. It's a court order. How would it look if she tried to get out of it?"

Luke grabbed a towel and wiped his face. "True. This is terrible."

"I was kind of hoping you could help her with Jedi meditation techniques or something, something to help her calm down. She's really worked up."

Luke shook his head. "It doesn't really work like that. You have to be calm before you start to use the Force. With the state she's in, even if she could get calm enough to meditate, she's so angry - let's just say that isn't a good idea."

"So there's nothing you can do? What's the point of this Force crap if you can't even help your own sister?"

"Okay, you're upset, so I'm going to let the 'crap' comment slide, but really Han all I can do is what you can do, stand by her, support her, go to the hearing with her, be there."

Han let out a huge sigh and started walking to the door. "I better get back up there."

"Call me if you think it would help if I come up, okay?"

Han nodded and walked out. He wandered through the hallways of the opulent hotel barely aware of his surroundings. He didn't know how to deal with Leia lately. She seemed to have only two modes around him now, furious or practically comatose. When he got back up to the hotel room Leia was sitting in front of a mirror in their bedroom running a brush through her wet hair.

Han stood behind her. Leia set the brush down and he leaned over her and kissed the top of her head. "I'm going to order room service. What would you like?"

"I'm not really hungry."

He kissed the top of her head again. "Okay."

Han went back into the lounge area and rang room service. He deliberately ordered things he knew she liked hoping to entice her to eat. She had a bad habit of not eating when she was upset and lately she seemed very thin.

A half an hour later he went back into the bedroom with a tray of food. He found her sitting on the side of the bed staring at her hands.

"Leia?"

She looked up at him. "I don't think I can do this."

He sat the tray down on the dresser and moved to sit beside her. "What can't you do?"

"Any of it: run a charity, move into a real apartment, testify, act normal."

Han took her hands in his. "I think that last part's the problem."

She looked at him.

"You go to things like that gallery opening and you walk around talking to people who spent the last four years at the spa hoping the Empire would lighten up on civil liberties but not really caring because they had so much money it didn't really affect them. I stood and watched you chat with them like you'd been doing the same thing. Like being in the Rebellion was an inconvenience that meant you couldn't make the cotillion season."

"I don't want them to know what happened to me. It's none of their business."

"But, Leia, they're the ones that you need to testify for. The people on the bottom of society don't need you to tell them how horrible the Empire was, they lived it every day. But the top, Leia, they need to know what happened to you, because then they'll understand that it could have happened to them. And maybe they'll work harder next time to see that it doesn't happen again."

"I don't know, Han..."

"Look, the destruction of Alderaan did a lot to turn the tide of sympathy to the Rebellion, but it was so huge, so incomprehensible, most people couldn't get their head around it, but when you go into that court room and say I'm a princess, I was a senator, and they did these things to me. That puts a face on it. People can understand that. And those Moffs and regional governors that are sitting in prison right now claiming they were just following orders, you can bring them down, Leia, like no one else."

"But to see a vid, even just a few minutes of one. I can't..." she whispered.

"I'll be there with you, and Luke and Chewie, you won't have to go alone."

Leia shook her head. "I don't want you to see, not even a minute of what they did to me. You don't want to see that."

Han touched his forehead to hers. "No, I don't, but I'm going to, because there's no way in hell I'm letting you walk in there alone. Don't even think about it. I'm going."

"But once I testify, then everyone will know."

"So? What are you afraid of?"

"Pity."

"Leia, once people hear about this they're going to think the same thing I do."

Leia leaned back and looked at him. "What do you think?"

"I think your survival is just one more thing in a long list of ways that you're amazing."

"I don't think that's how it will work."

"It will, you'll see."

"That's what you said about Dodonna, and we see how well he took it."

"He's a special case."

"No, I think he's probably typical."

"There is nothing typical about that kind of blind devotion."

Leia didn't say anything.

"Most people don't worship you, Your Worship." He hadn't teased her with that nickname in over a year.

It had the desired effect; it elicited a half laugh. "I hope you're right."

"Trust me."

"We'll see," she said.

"Fine. I'm hungry, help me eat some of this."

Neither Han nor Leia had scheduled appointments for the following week because they were moving into the apartment along with Luke and Chewie. Luke had plans to be on Coruscant for a while because he was hoping to locate the Jedi Academy which was supposed to be somewhere in the capital. Han felt the move couldn't have been timed better; the distraction of it kept Leia's mind somewhat occupied. All of the furniture wasn't ready, but the relevant bedrooms, the bathrooms, and the kitchen were done. Han was relieved that Luke and Chewie and the droids were there. It kept Leia from completely lapsing into misery the way she would have if they were alone.

He moved now through an open-air market looking for something good to make for lunch. He found that Leia ate better if he fixed simple meals at home rather than going out to eat or ordering in. Han found he didn't really mind cooking. His mother had been a cook, so he'd been in kitchen's all his life. Actually, the large industrial kitchen in their apartment felt oddly comfortable to him. Cooking simple herbed omelets and making fresh salads in that huge kitchen reminded him of eating with his mother after the guests had left and her shift was over.

He was looking now for a fruit seller. Fruit and cheese and bread were three things he could almost always get Leia to eat if they were high quality and fresh. He'd just spotted a booth with yellow plums for sale when he heard his name. Reflexively his hand moved to the blaster concealed under his jacket. He turned around and was shocked to find himself face to face with Stace Fenton.

"Han?" she said again.

"Stace." He didn't know how to feel about seeing her. He was angry, surprised and inquisitive all at once.

"Wow, it's been a long time," she said.

"Yeah, of course, it seems like only yesterday thanks to all the media attention." He cleared his throat.

She dropped her eyes. "Yeah, I'm sorry about that. Alm was pretty furious when I left him. He did that mostly to get back at me."

"And to make a quick buck."

"I'm sure. He was always looking to do that."

"So what are you doing here?"

She indicated her basket. "Same as you. I'm stocking up on some supplies before I head back out."

"You're still running freight?"

"Yeah, but legit these days. I'm still trying to make contacts, but I'm doing okay."

Han nodded.

"Listen, Han, I want you to know, when I found out Alm sold those pictures, I tried to contact you, but I couldn't get a hold of you. I'd heard you were with that princess - she's got a public access point so I sent them to her. I'm sorry, I just didn't want you to get blindsided by me, again. I had to sneak on to his ship to do it. There was no time for a note. I'm sorry, I just didn't know what else to do to warn you before the press broke the story."

"So you sent them?" He was surprised she'd cared enough to bother. He was surprised she cared at all.

She nodded.

"Well, thanks, that did give us enough warning to get ourselves together before the press."

"I saw what you two said on the net, I though you both handled it real good."

"Yeah."

"Well, listen I'll see you around." Stace turned to leave. Han took her all in. Her long frame, the red hair cut short and wild around her face. He remembered holding her in bed laughing their heads off.

"Hey, Stace!"

She turned around. "Yeah?"

"Listen, talk to Commander Jen Harten at Alliance Merchant Marine. I'll see she throws some work your way."

Stace gave him a big smile. "Thanks, Han. You always were a stand up guy. You tell that princess, she's a lucky girl."

Han laughed. "Yeah, I'll do that. Take it easy."

"You too."

Han watched her fold into the crowd and disappear. Then he went to buy plums.

The beginning of the week went pretty well, but as her court date approached Leia became more and more withdrawn. She ate less and less and said almost nothing.

Han noticed that Luke and Chewie seemed to walk lightly around her, and spoke in voices just above a whisper. It's as if they thought loud noises might shatter her like porcelain. Even Artoo and Threepio seemed to be quieter around her. Han knew he had been hunkered down too, trying not to upset her, trying to get her to eat without pestering her too much. He couldn't remember the last time she touched him for anything more than comfort, and in the last three days she hadn't even done that. As he lay in their new bed and lamented that they hadn't made love in it yet, he wondered if she would even come to bed tonight. She had been later and later in her office lately. He was surprised a few minutes later when the door opened. She didn't turn the light on, didn't take her clothes off. She curled on the bed next to him, but on top of the covers.

"Han," she whispered. "Are you awake?"

"Yeah."

"Tomorrow is the court date."

"I know."

"What if I can't do it?"

"You can do it."

"What if they start the vid and I completely fall apart?"

"You won't."

"What if I do?"

Han paused. "Then I'll take you home. But that's not going to happen. You'll do fine. You're strong."

"Not that strong."

"Stronger." Han said, and meant it.

She didn't say anything after that. Han was sure she didn't sleep though, because he didn't.

The next morning felt like slow motion under water to Han. Shower, shave, eat, wait for Leia. She didn't want anything for breakfast. She showered but then tried for a half an hour to do something with her hair before throwing her brush down in complete frustration. Han finally stood behind her and braided it all into one long braid for her. She couldn't decide what to wear and seemed on the verge of tears about it. He handed her a short black button down shirt and some simple black slacks. She managed shoes and socks without him.

Threepio drove them all to the High Court in the brand new land speeder Leia had asked Han to purchase. Chewie sat up front with Threepio. Luke sat in the back with Han and Leia. Han had his arm around her, and she was pressed tightly against him.

It seemed that every single member of the press from every single planet in the universe had decided to cover this story. Chewie however cut an easy swath through them. He bared his teeth at anyone who started to crowd them. Leia followed directly behind Chewie with Han behind her and Luke bringing up the rear. She walked on her own without his assistance. Didn't want his arm around her, held her head high.

The courtroom was packed. It was standing room only. There must have been a hundred races represented and many familiar faces. Mon Mothma was there as was General Rieekan, General Willard and, Han was shocked to see, General Dodonna. He also recognized several faces that had been at the gallery opening.

Leia was sworn in and took her seat in the witness box. She seemed very small and alone. Han wished he could be with her, but he and Luke and Chewie sat in the witness gallery in front of the High Commissioner of the court.

The High Commissioner spoke. "Your Majesty Princess Leia, the High Court would like to apologize for the painful nature of these proceedings and assure you that your testimony is deeply appreciated. Are you ready?"

Leia took a deep breath. "Yes."

"Then may the light of truth shine through the darkness seen here today."

Han was stunned by the silence in the courtroom – it was as if everyone held their breath.

A Thorian stepped forward with a remote in her hand. "Your Majesty, I will be showing a clip from a vid that was found in the Emperor's personal collection here on Coruscant. I need you to watch the vid, and tell me whether or not the woman shown is you."

The clip was only ninety seconds, but it seemed much longer to Han. He saw Vader walk into a cell so small he had to duck to get through the door. He saw two guards follow him. He watched as a small spherical droid hummed its way into the room. He saw Leia press herself against the far wall of the cell, her eyes wide with horror. Vader spoke, and then the droid injected her with something and a moment later she screamed. Everyone in the room jumped except Han. The scream was familiar to him. It had woken him at least once a month for the last two years. The vid stopped and froze on the image of Leia screaming.

"Your Majesty," the Thorian spoke again, "is that you?" She pointed to the image on the wall.

Leia nodded and drew in a ragged breath. "Yes."

The Thorian clicked the remote and to Han's relief the image disappeared. The Thorian turned back to Leia. "Is it true that Lord Vader sent word to the Senate and your family on Alderaan that your ship had been lost in a meteor storm?"

"I was told that at the time yes."

The Thorian turned to the twenty-member jury. "Let it be known that a record of this transmission has been entered into evidence." She turned back to Leia. "Is it also true that this interrogation was unsuccessful in gaining the Empire any useful information on the whereabouts of the Rebel Alliance?"

Leia nodded. "Yes."

"What happened then?"

"I was brought before Grand Moff Tarkin and told that if I didn't give them the location of the Rebel base they would destroy my home planet of Alderaan."

"What did you tell them?"

"I told them it was on Dantooine."

"Was there a base on Dantooine?"

"No, but there had been one recently."

"Did they check to confirm your story?"

"No, Grand Moff Tarkin said that Dantooine was too remote for an effective demonstration of the power of his new battle station."

"The Death Star?"

"That's not what he called it, but yes."

"And you were on the Death Star for this conversation."

"Yes, that's where I was incarcerated."

"And then what happened?"

Leia shut her eyes and paused. "They destroyed it."

"Alderaan?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"And what did they do with you."

"I was returned to my cell."

"And?"

Leia paused and looked out at all the faces in the courtroom. Then her eyes found Han's. He felt as if her next words were spoken only to him, as they had been so long ago on the way to Bespin. "They raped me and tagged me for execution."

There was an audible gasp from the crowd. Leia didn't look at them. She kept her eyes locked on Han's. He held her gaze and tried to say with his eyes how proud he was of her.

"They meaning?"

"Two storm troopers."

"Do we have evidence of the rape before the jury?" The High Commissioner asked the Thorian.

"I believe so." She said checking her data pad.

"It's in my medical file," Leia said.

The Thorian looked up. "Yes, the file was submitted two days ago."

"Do we have the tag documentation on file?"

The Thorian consulted her pad again. "I don't see that we have a scan for that."

"We need that in evidence," the High Commissioner said, clearly irritated at the Thorian.

Leia sighed. "Do you have a scanner?"

"Yes." The Thorian held up the remote.

Leia stood, turned around and lifted her shirt slightly, and rolled down the waistband of her pants. There were more gasps from the crowd. The Thorian scanned the tag on her hip.

"Thank you Your Majesty, I'm sorry that wasn't requested earlier," the High Commissioner said.

Leia shifted her clothes back in place and sat down.

The Thorian continued. "Can you tell the court how you managed to escape execution, Your Majesty?"

She smiled faintly. "General Obi-wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and the Wookiee Chewbacca rescued me. General Kenobi lost his life in the attempt."

"Is there anything else you think the court should know concerning this matter?" the High Commissioner asked.

Leia shook her head. "No."

"Then the court releases you from the witness box."

Leia stood. A chime sounded and the High Commissioner announced a recess until after lunch.

They left the courtroom in the same order they came in, except this time Han's arm was tight around Leia and he could feel her trembling against him. It surprised him that with all the stress and no food in her stomach she made it all the way to the bottom of the stairs outside the High Court before she passed out. He only had to carry her four feet into the waiting land speeder. The camera flashes were blinding.

She came to in the speeder on the way home. Han fed her fruit and cheese and put her to bed. No one turned on the vid network and Leia slept the rest of the day.

The next morning Han was having the best dream. Leia's mouth was on him, wet and hot. He loved this dream. It didn't happen often in real life and certainly not lately. Oh, she was good. His eyes popped open. This was no dream. He reached under the blankets hooked his thumbs under her armpits, and pulled her out from under the covers to face him. She seemed shocked to have changed positions so swiftly. Then she gave him a shy smile.

"I was starting to think you'd never wake up," she said.

"Where have you been?" Han asked.

Leia blushed. "Miss me?" She straddled his hips and slid down the length of him.

Han pressed his head back into the pillow and sighed. "You have no idea."

Leia rocked her hips forward and took him deeper. She leaned down and kissed his chest. "I have some idea."

He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. She hadn't been like this with him since they'd arrived on Coruscant. He had started to despair of ever seeing this Leia again, but here she was, hot and wet on top of him, talking like herself, smiling, blushing. He wanted to run out into the street and shout 'she's back, she's back.' Instead, he just said "I love you so much."

Leia rubbed her check against the soft hair of his chest. "I know."

An hour later they emerged from their bedroom starved and in search of food. They passed through the living room on the way to the kitchen and found Luke and Chewbacca sitting on the couch engrossed in the vid network.

Han wanted to knock their heads together for having that on.

"You should see this." Luke said as they walked into the room.

"You guys are the romance of the century according to channel 20," Chewie growled.

"But channel 9 just calls you the couple of the year, so don't get a big head." Luke offered.

"Oh good grief," Leia grumbled as the footage outside the courtroom of Han carrying her to the speeder showed on the screen. Two commentators talked over the footage, discussing her testimony, talking about how brave she was.

"It's all over the net," Luke said, "pick a channel any channel."

"I'm going to get something to eat," Leia said and left for the kitchen.

"Put it on local news." Han sat down in a comfy chair next to the couch.

The local news channel not only had the footage from the courtroom, but also had a still picture of Han and Leia locked in a very passionate kiss.

"Where the hell did they get that?"

"What?" Leia asked. She had a roll in one hand and a glass of water in the other.

"That." Han said indicating the screen. The commentators were speculating on how long they'd been a couple and noting that they were supposedly living together somewhere on Coruscant."

Leia looked at the picture. "When was that taken?"

They all leaned closer to the screen.

Chewie finally woofed, "Luke's last birthday party, you can see the streamers in the background."

"Who took that?" Leia asked.

No one seemed to know.

The image switched along with the next story.

"In other news, noted artist Sil Dorva was found dead this morning from an apparent overdose." The image on the screen was of the slender young man from the art gallery. "Dorva was most noted for his controversial political murals that would appear overnight in the capital during the Emperor's reign. Dorva, an Alderaanian, was arrested several times because of his art. His most recent painting a graphic unflattering portrayal of Princess Leia Organa was on display briefly at the Capital Gallery before being purchased by Her Majesty for 600,000 credits."

Leia got up and walked out on to the balcony. Han waited a moment and then followed her.

He came up behind her and couldn't help but notice the stunning view of the city before them. He hadn't really taken the time to enjoy this view before now. He wrapped his arms around Leia and rested his chin on top of her head.

"See," she said finally, "I told you there wouldn't be anymore paintings."

"Are you okay?"

Leia sighed. "I could tell at the gallery he wasn't long for this world."

"I don't get it. He just sold a painting for major bank."

"My guess is with the Emperor gone, he ran out of meaningful work. There was nothing left to shield him from the storm."

Han held her tighter, hell bent on never letting her go, even if she wanted him to.

They stood there for a long time and watched the traffic swirl beneath them among the controversy and speculation, the agony and joy of a seething city fully alive for the first time in years.

23